Talking with Team Five Ten: Injuries

Injuries. Pretty much every climber will deal with one at some point during their career. Be it a tweaked pulley or a broken ankle, the injuries we deal with range from minor annoyances to career-derailers.

It’s important that we learn how to deal with injuries – not just the physical aspect, but also the mental aspect. And even more importantly, we must learn how to avoid injuries in the first place.

To gain some perspective, I talked to some of the climbers on Team Five Ten. They provided me with great feedback that I’m excited to share with you all below.

Urs Moosmuller
Urs is an up-and-coming climber who excels at all three disciplines of rock climbing. Currently on an extended trip around North America, Urs has already ticked one of the hardest sport climbs at the New River Gorge (Proper Soul, 5.14a), the second ascent of Sacred Geometry, a 5.13c trad line at the Red River Gorge, and is crushing down in Mexico as we speak. You can find his blog here.

Urs Moosmuller. Photo credit: Leigh Marr

Urs Moosmuller. Photo credit: Leigh Marr

Have you ever dealt with a serious climbing injury?

I haven’t dealt with any serious climbing injury in the past few years. Injury free so far! But I probably will sustain one soon with the constant climbing. I did have one in the Red. I was bouldering on some choss and 3 out of my 4 holds ripped off the wall and I fell straight onto a slab. My right knee dropped and twisted then I slid down the slab. That my most recent. It hurt for several weeks and still aches a little on drop knees.

How did you deal with being injured?

Dealing with an injury can be hard depending on how badly you hurt yourself. A few days ago, one of our friends in Mexico City fractured his ankle in four places from falling on the pads wrong, and he has several months of recovery ahead of him. It can be both positive and negative. During that time you will either decide to stop climbing or you will renew your psyche and come back with more focus and determination.

Coming back is hard too because once it is on the recovery path, you will start climbing again and retesting the boundaries of your body, and it’s very easy to re-injure yourself. Breaking and fracturing bones is bad but is preferable over tendon injuries. Bones can heal back stronger but muscles and tendons can be destroyed to the point of never healing again.

What advice do you have to avoid injuries?

Most of the injuries sustained from climbing are minor pulls or strains on certain tendons and ligaments. They generally heal pretty quickly as long as you don’t re-injure them before they are fully healed.

My best advice for preventing injuries would be to listen to your body. If you feel sharp pain, stop immediately. Make sure you are drinking tons of water to keep yourself hydrated and less likely to injure anything.

Ben Spannuth
Ben is one of the strongest sport climbers in the game today. He’s assembled an impressive ticklist and put up many first ascents around the country, but you probably wouldn’t know – he keeps a low profile and is one of the most humble and modest climbers you will ever meet. Ben currently resides in Colorado, and you can read more about Ben (and his work with Louder Than 11) here.

Ben Spannuth on Golden Ticket (5.14c, Red River Gorge, KY). Photo credit: Brendan Leader

Ben Spannuth on Golden Ticket (5.14c, Red River Gorge, KY). Photo credit: Brendan Leader

Have you ever dealt with a serious climbing injury?

I’ve never had a serious climbing injury but had a few minor tweaks that were fine with a little rest. My shoulder was probably the worst after trying a single route over and over, so I ended up doing a lot of rotator cuff exercises for a while which helped a lot. I did have a non climbing injury where I fell on my wrist and had to take 6 weeks off of climbing last fall. That was awful and I went a little crazy but not climbing was definitely the best way to get back in the game as quickly as possible.

How did you deal with being injured?

The shoulder tweak last a couple months and was most noticeable when I was warming up. For the wrist, it took a long time of not using my hand at all, doing easy rice bucket exercises, flailing of past warm-ups, then finally feeling strong.

What advice do you have to avoid injuries?

Listen to your body! There’s a balance of trying hard and not getting hurt so you have to learn when to punch it and when to back off and rethink how you’re doing the moves and if there’s a better way.

Nina Williams
Nina has quickly become one of the top female boulderers around. She put together a solid 2012 including a trip to Rocklands South Africa and many solid competition finishes. She’s started 2013 off right with a very impressive trip to Hueco, including two V11s and five V10s. Nina is currently based in Colorado, and you can follow along with her adventures here.

Nina on Focus (V10, Hueco Tanks, TX). Photo credit: Beau Kahler

Nina Williams on Focus (V10, Hueco Tanks, TX). Photo credit: Beau Kahler

Have you ever dealt with a serious climbing injury?

I have been incredibly fortunate to have avoided serious injuries as a result from climbing. Apart from some stressed pulleys that took at most a couple weeks to heal (I took climbing completely off), I did strangely pull my entire tricep/forearm after falling on it without spotters or a crashpad during a competition. To this day I’m still not sure what happened there.

Honestly, my most serious injury that prevented me from climbing was a shoulder one. I won’t go into details, but it involved a nasty fall at Bed Bath and Beyond…har har. It was pretty bad; I had a grade 3 separation of my shoulder, which actually affected my collarbone and AC joint as opposed to my actual shoulder joint. Basically, the ligaments in my shoulder were stretched and partially torn in some places, causing my collarbone to shift and tent my skin. This happened 5 days before my leave date from New England to Colorado in June; needless to say I missed all of 2010 alpine bouldering season. I also missed Nationals because I was barely able to dress myself, nevermind climb, for a solid 3 months. It took probably 5 months (since the injury) to feel comfortable climbing again, and another 3 on top of that to get strong again.

How did you deal with being injured?

I dealt with the shoulder injury in the beginning by avoiding anything to do with climbing because it just made me sad. I’ll admit I did a lot of moping…but the move to Colorado, finding a job (Starbucks), and wrapping myself up in work helped take my mind off things. I got more into backpacking, making up food inventories for backpacking (I think I liked that better than actual backpacking), and lots of reading. I cleaned a lot. I put up pictures, I decorated. I took down pictures, moved the decorations around and generally wasted a lot of time. But I also was careful to keep eating healthy and got really into running for a bit, when it wasn’t so painful to do so.

I also made mini-training plans that involved super light and easy weights to slowly strengthen my shoulder again. I looked up new problems in the area and made a project list. Admittedly this was pretty easy for me to do since, by then, I had lived in Colorado for 3 months and hadn’t done any climbing. To this day I am amazed that the shoulder doctor I went to literally told me there was nothing I could do. He said I could climb again when my shoulder didn’t hurt and that was it.

Looking back, I would recommend PT and stretching, but I didn’t do a lot of that and my shoulder doesn’t bother me much today. I would still do it though, it will help your recovery time greatly.

What advice do you have to avoid injuries?

My advice on avoiding injury is simple: if it hurts and the pain is above a 2, stop climbing immediately. This may seem pretty extreme and I have probably rested far more than I may have needed to in the past, but I always consider and understand that 3 days, a week, 2 weeks, a month, 3 months, 6 months, even a year is nothing compared to the rest of your life. You will always have time to come back.

Eating healthy is a no-brainer, your body needs to take in good nutrients to keep your muscles and tendons strong. I have recently been taking glucosamine chondroitin + MSM (make sure there’s MSM, otherwise it’s not absorbed properly) for my joints as preventative care. I recommend the liquid form, partly because I hear liquid is absorbed better/faster and partly because I hate taking horse-sized pills. Sure doesn’t taste good but chase it with some juice and you’ll be fine.

Avoiding injury is largely listening to your body and knowing when it doesn’t like something, such as a tweaky finger move or a powerful shoulder-y gaston. You’re not weak if you back off a problem because something hurts or is uncomfortable; it means you’re smart. Always ice fingers/muscles when they feel even the slightest bit pulled; it’ll help in the long run.

So there you have it. Some insight and advice from three of the strongest climbers out there. They’ve all dealt with injuries, but few of them have actually been directly related to climbing. They must be doing something right!

All three of them mention listening to your body – such a basic concept, but one we tend to ignore. When you’re really getting strong and starting to crush, it’s hard to take time off when you feel a little tweak. But it’s better to take a few days when it just starts to hurt rather than an extended period later on when it really gets screwed up – and you’ll most likely come back even stronger after those few days!

If you have any injury advice or stories to tell, I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or speak up on Facebook or Twitter. Many thanks to Urs, Ben, and Nina for taking the time to answer my questions!

Stretch those muscles, ice those tendons, and listen to your bodies! Stay stoked, climb on, and keep injury free for 2013!


3 responses to “Talking with Team Five Ten: Injuries

  1. Im Carlos, I took a bad fall bouldering in Mexico trying a dyno, landed badly on an old and kind of floppy crashpad and took four small fractures on my fibula, very close to my ankle. fortunately my ankle was intact but i did have to get five screws and a small plaque installed which are my new friends for the rest of my life. im pretty bummed i wont be climbing for a few months, but like Urs, Nina and Ben said, not climbing is probably going to be my fastest way to get back on the rock. Dealing with the injury psychologically has definitely been the crux of the injury, ive been picking up old habits like playing music and drawing to pass the time and soon i will start upper body training to stay in decent shape for whenever i can climb again. Tomorrow will be one week since the accident/surgery and though I still have a long recovery ahead of me, i think staying positive, healthy and using all that patience that used to go to my climbing projects is the surest way to get back on the rocks as soon as possible. Ill keep you guys posted on how my recovery goes, and i hope every injured climber out there gets well soon!

  2. Listening to your body is completely mission critical. Coming from a running background, I learned that pain was a sign that you tried hard and that you were getting stronger. In climbing, that philosophy just doesn’t work. Skip ahead to my first few years climbing, and guess what, I tore my rotator cuff from over training (with poor form to boot). The pain I had grew steadily until it hurt to drive one day, and I knew then that I had made a mistake. Five years later, I still deal with that pain and injury, on an almost daily basis. I can only imagine the level I would be sending at if I had simply listened to my body and stopped climbing and slowed training to a standstill. Nina is right, if it hurts more than a 2, STOP.

  3. Pingback: 2013 Year in Review | To Defy Gravity·

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